Last year I made a list of ten frontlist books I didn’t have time to read in 2015. So many amazing new books are published every year and it’s virtually impossible to keep up–unless you’re one of those super-readers who burns through 200+ books a year without breaking a sweat. (I am definitely not.)
I managed to keep up with this year’s frontlist better than I did last year, but there are still a number of books that fell by the wayside. Here are the ten 2016 releases that will be at the top of my 2017 backlist TBR, in no particular order.
Note: All of the book descriptions are from Amazon and are shortened and/or paraphrased to keep the word count down.
1. Barkskins by Annie Proulx
In the late seventeenth century, two penniless Frenchmen arrive in New France, bound to work for a feudal lord in exchange for land. They become wood-cutters, or barkskins, but ultimately their paths diverge. One suffers extraordinary hardship while the other prospers as a fur trader and timber mogul. Barkskins traces their decedents across continents for three hundred years. The two Frenchmen’s legacy: seizing wood at every opportunity until their modern-day heirs are faced with the growing threat of ecological collapse.
I love books that explore environmental issues, so I was super excited when I heard that a Pulitzer Prize-winning author would be publishing a novel about deforestation. I kept putting off reading it because it’s over 700 pages and I never felt like I had enough time between review copies to tackle it. Next year for sure!
2. Miss Jane by Brad Watson
Jane Chisolm is born in early-twentieth-century Mississippi with a genital birth defect that will prevent her from becoming a wife and mother–the only acceptable roles for women of that era. Despite her limitations, Jane’s life is shot through with transcendent beauty as she is free to satisfy only herself. The book is based on the life of the author’s great aunt.
The political climate this year has made me want to read a lot more feminist books and I think this one qualifies. It has a really interesting premise and it’s quite short, so hopefully I’ll be able to read it within the next couple of months.
3. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
In the winter of 1885, decorated war hero Colonel Allen Forrester leads a small band of men on an expedition that has been deemed impossible: to venture up the Wolverine River and pierce the vast, untamed Alaska Territory. The Wolverine River Valley is terrifying in ways that the colonel and his men never could have imagined and they cannot escape the sense that a mysterious force threatens their lives.
I love a good wilderness survival story and the spooky/supernatural/paranormal element hinted at in the blurb makes this one sound even more interesting. I am also completely in love with the cover design! It is one of my top ten favorite book covers of 2016.
4. Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
In modern-day America, slavery is legal in four states known as “the Hard Four.” A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter to catch runaway slaves. On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor discovers the secrets at the core of the country’s arrangement with the Hard Four–secrets the government will preserve at any cost.
I actually checked this book out from the library this summer, but didn’t have a chance to read it before it was due. The Man in the High Castle introduced me to the alternate history dystopian sub-genre last year and I’m hooked. Underground Airlines received a lot of praise and it’s exactly the sort of premise I find intriguing.
5. We Love You Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
The Freeman family has been invited to the Toneybee Institute in rural Massachusetts to participate in a research experiment. They will live in an apartment on campus with Charlie, a young chimp abandoned by his mother, and teach him sign language. Isolated in the nearly all-white community not just by race but by their strange new living situation, the Freeman’s come undone. And when Charlotte, their eldest daughter, discovers the turn about the Institute’s history of questionable studies, the secrets of the past begin to invade the present.
This book has everything I like in a novel: mystery, Frankenstein-esque experimentation, an exploration of animal intelligence, and it’s set in Massachusetts. I also checked this one out from the library, but didn’t have the time to read it before the due date.
6. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal
Speaking of animal intelligence… In this book Frans de Waal invites readers on a journey into the minds of earth’s non-human creatures. She shares research involving cows, dolphins, parrots, sheep, wasps, bats, whales, chimps, and bonobos that reveals the true scope and depth of animal intelligence. Advances in this field of study prompt the question: how different are we really from the animals around us?
This is such a fascinating topic and I cannot wait to dive in.Better Luck Next Year: 10 Highly Anticipated Books I Didn't Have Time to Read in 2016Click To Tweet
7. The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe by Elaine Showalter
Julia Ward (1819-1910) was an heiress and accomplished writer who penned The Battle Hymn of the Republic. She married Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, an internationally-acclaimed pioneer in the education of the blind. Unfortunately, Dr. Howe was a better doctor than husband. He wasted Julia’s inheritance, isolated her, and discouraged her literary ambitions. Despite these obstacles, Julia continues to publish poems and plays while raising six children. Later she became a pacifist, suffragette, and world traveler. This is the story of her life, achievements, and the civil war she fought at home for the right to live her own life.
I had no idea that Battle Hymn of the Republic was written by a woman. While I don’t know much about her (yet) Julia Ward sounds like such an inspiring historical figure. This book is definitely going on my feminist 2017 TBR list.
8. The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Gene is a scientific, social, and personal history of the human genome and its influence in our lives. Mukherjee explores centuries of research and experimentation–from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin–and asks the question: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information?
I love books about science and medicine, so this is right up my alley. I’ve read a fair number of books about neurology and many on infectious diseases, but I’ve hardly read anything about the human genome. I think The Gene will be enlightening and entertaining.
9. In a Different Key by John Donvan & Caren Zucker
In a Different Key is a narrative history of autism. It tells the stories of patient and parents fighting for their rights, advocating for research and understanding, and searching for effective treatments. It also reveals the dark history of this disease–how so-called researchers subjected patients to electric shocks and fed them LSD, and how the man who discovered Asperger syndrome participated in the Nazi program than sentenced disabled children to death.
Autism is such an interesting and controversial disease. (Is it even a disease? There has been much debate over this fundamental categorization as well.) Although we have clues about possible contributing factors, we still don’t know exactly what causes Autism. And then there’s the issue of treatment, which no one seems to be able to agree on either. I’ve read bits about Autism here and there, but I have never read a book of this scope on the subject and I am eager to learn more.
10. The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale
In the summer of 1895, 13-year-old Robert Coombes and his twelve-year-old brother, Nattie, were arrested for matricide after the decomposing body of their mother was found in their family home. Robert confessed to stabbing his mother and was imprisoned in the most infamous criminal lunatic asylum in England. The Wicked Boy follows Robert throughout his life–what led to the murder, his treatment at Broadmoor Hospital, and what followed after his release.
I find theories of criminality, sociopathy, and psychopathy fascinating, especially when applied to child offenders. Throw in an infamous asylum and I’m all in. I think this will prove to be a fascinating and highly entertaining read.
What 2016 books do you most want to read in 2017?